When it comes to wine in France, it’s always five o’clock somewhere.
At the beginning of my trip, I stayed in a hostel with my program. Our first experience with wine in France was in the hostel cafeteria, where some barely drinkable red and rosé wines were available out of a machine.
Luckily, French wine is definitely better than that, and someone should sue the hostel for giving us such false impressions.
The important thing to know about wine is that it isn’t just an easy, cheap way to get drunk. It’s a huge part of culture, and it takes some knowledge to pick the right bottle (think of it as the difference between Aristocrat and Belvedere…which one would you pick?).
However, in France this can be kind of tricky. Instead of picking between chardonnay, pinot grigio, or sauvignon blanc, you have to choose from regions of France. If you don’t know what type of wine in which each region specializes, you might just be playing a guessing game in the grocery store for a while (like me when navigating the cheese section).
Some good rules of thumb for picking out wine are to always look at the bottom first. In our orientation at school, the directors told us that the higher the “punt” is at the bottom (the indentation), the better the wine is.
Speaking from experience, I know this to be true. One late night, a friend and I went to an alimentation générale (kind of like the French equivalent of 7-Eleven, with more produce and no taquitos), got the first bottle of wine we saw, and could barely finish a glass because it was so revolting. The bottle was completely flat on the bottom.
But, it’s also important to know what kind of wine you like (don’t say Arbor Mist), which can only be learned through tasting. People can try to explain wine to you forever, but without tasting it, you’ll really have no idea. There are so many variations; sweet, dry, light, fruity, red, white, rosé—and this is barely scratching the surface.
One day, I was at the grocery store in the wine aisle, and noticed two American women staring at a French man who was surveying the many shelves of bottles. I assure you, it wasn’t because they thought he might be Sarkozy. After this poor man, who was just trying to buy some groceries, realized the girls were hardcore creeping on him, he began to walk away.
They ran after him, asked if he spoke English, to which he looked completely baffled. They told him they were waiting to see what type of wine he picked out so they could buy the same bottle. He looked really weirded out, but for some reason they thought this was normal (however, bear in mind that French people tend to avoid strangers in public).
Just so you know, not everyone who lives in France is a wine expert—except me, obviously. I’m working on it, at least.
So, the next time you go to Wegman’s to prepare for your wine and cheese soirée (dramatic readings optional), don’t go for the three dollar bottle or the first one you find. Like with men, keep looking until you find one good enough to take home.